disability politics and mind/body dualism
October 19, 2014
just having a sudden thought about the ways that ‘physical” disabilities are distinguished from ‘mental” disabilities and the ways that a lot of disabilitity discourse subtly relies on mind/body dualism…
the physical vs. mental distinction is just one of a few different dichotomies that (usually white) disability activists use to frame their discussions around disability as a site of oppression. mind/body dualism essentially asserts that the mind and body are distinct ontological entities. they are related to in each other in certain important ways but they exist independently of the other.
this dualism is a foundational assumption in a lot of white theorizing about the world, the self, and the body. created and formalized several hundred years ago in european philosophy, it continues to live on in trans humanist/science fiction visions of the world wherein, for example, people — given the right technology — could copy their ‘minds”/selves onto the internet and live eternally in cyberspace. i remember reading a horror novel with this essential plotline way back at the beginning of the popularization of the internet.
and for those people who don”t have both physical and mental disabilities, there is usually some important distinctions that are drawn within the disabled community in terms of access, accommodation, and rights. one of which is an admittedly sloppy and not heavily policed assumption that physical disabilities are often more ‘visible” than mental disabilities… and thus are more overtly oppressed while ‘invisible” mental disabilities are heavily stigmatized but depend on some level of disclosure or whatever to experience the same kind of ableism that physically/visible disabled people do.
example: that a person using a wheelchair is more oppressed than a person with anxiety, all other things being equal (ie, same class, gender, race, no other disabilities).
certainly, outside of the disability community, this type of structuring logic informs a lot of accemmodations that policy makers focus on (ie, ramps/elevators and such but no real thought for those with anxiety). this sort of thing is usually well critiqued within the community (thankfully).
but i don”t often see people critiquing the underlying assumptions of these type of policy approach or discusive space.
essentially, most of the white disabled people i see writing about stuff are generally happy to believe that there is a meaningful difference between physical and mental disabilities. and they use this belief to structure a lot of the discussion around disability.
however, there are many iaopoc ontologies where the body and the mind are one and the same, rather than distinct entities. in such a world view there can be no meaningful distinction between ‘physical” and ‘mental” disabilities…
of course a lot of people (raised within the white supremacist worldview — myself included) have trouble imagining how critical this seemingly small difference in ontology makes.
but if we look to a great deal of non-white systems of healing, traditional Chinese medicine is a great example because one world you”ll hear a lot when researching this healing practice is ‘holistic”. Holism in healing is to view the body/mind as one whole, rather than distinct. but there are some white medical practices that use this vein of reasoning (when people tell you to exercise to improve your mood, they are relying on a fundamental connection between physical wellness and mental wellness).
philosophically, the difference arises too in how, for example, Nagarjuna can argue that because the body is changeable/inconstant it doesn”t exist and, thus, neither does the mind/self and the realization of this truth of the world is to become enlightened.
for a lot of iaopoc, the enforced worldview of mind/body dualism is a site of significant violence done to ourselves (inclusive of mind and body). but most disability discourse is happy as fuck to just reify this as a basic truth about how disability is embodied by individuals….
it strikes me as super interesting and perhaps one of the key reasons why so many disabled iaopoc ppl i know cannot effectively locate themselves within white disability discourse… because it instantiates this same violence that can actively prevent iaopoc from properly understanding ourselves/bodies as disabled.
(i”ll be honest, i got kind of distracted and i”m not sure how to end this post. i just wanted to draw attention to an assumption i see structuring white disability discourse and how this assumption ends up erasing disabled iaopoc but also alienates us from the discourse and communities)</p>